In a previous article, I told the story about how my grandfather, Doc Dodgson, and his family moved to the farm on Camano Island. You can read that story here. In this, I share how our family was impacted by a little church a hill on southwest Camano and some of the history of Mabana Chapel.

Doc Dodgson’s Early Days

My grandfather, Thomas “Doc” Dodgson was born (1908) and raised in Seattle, WA. His family attended Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church where his parents met and married, then later they walked to a Methodist Church near their home in Interbay. Tom attended Sunday School and church with his father, mother and sister Margaret, and prayer meetings with his father “who was quite conscientious” on Thursday nights. After one rousing sermon, Tom accepted Jesus into his heart. The pastor paid attention to him, talking with him about spiritual things which Tom appreciated.  But later as a chemistry student at the College of Puget Sound, he began to question the accuracy of the Bible. He respected science and couldn’t see how the Bible fit with the cutting-edge facts he was learning. While he did not outright reject the Christian faith, his faith was shattered.

When Doc graduated in June, 1929, “Everyone was talking about stock brokers jumping out of windows. The whole stock market had crashed. That was the beginning of the Great Depression,” Doc reminisced. He worked that first summer in the wheat fields near Kelly, Colorado for three dollars a day, room and board. That fall Professor Slater at the College of Puget Sound recommended he get a job as a teaching assistant for a zoology professor at the University of Washington. He talked with the professor but studying snails, worms and beetles the rest of his life didn’t appeal to him. He tried to find work but with no luck until he answered an ad to be a vacuum cleaner salesman. He learned a lot about sales, but that wasn’t him either. In the spring of 1930, Thomas determined to go to medical school.

1935 was a big year. Doc fulfilled the requirements for an MD in medicine and surgery from the University of Oregon, whose the medical school was in Portland, and he married a young nursing student named Sayre on 21 September, the day she graduated from nursing school. Even with his certificate, Doc struggled to practice medicine. He asked doctors he knew in the Simpson and Cobb buildings in Seattle if they would take him on as a partner. But the longshoreman’s and lumberman’s strikes were on and they told him that they hadn’t been able to pay their rent for three years. Then his friend and roommate from medical school, Galen Belden, called. He urged Tom to join him in Utah. There was work in the mining camps he said.

Pictures from Doc and Sayre’s Wedding

Utah Years

Doc and Sayre moved to Utah hoping to find work. Doc filled in for doctors in coal camps before he had enough money saved to settle in Mt. Pleasant, seven miles from Moroni. Doc and Sayre’s firstborn, Margaret Sayre (1936), was delivered in Hiawatha so that Galen, who practiced there, could help with the delivery. When Galen took a job in Salt Lake City, Doc took over his practice in Hiawatha. Their first son, Thomas Galen, known as “Bud” (1938), was born in Hiawatha. The Dodgson’s last stop was Moroni where Robert George (1941) and my mom, Ann Cory, were born (1946).

Through the Utah years, Doc kept his foot in the door of the church and even more. He led singing at a little white church on a hill attended mainly by Greek immigrants. Doc and Sayre took their kids to a Sunday school in Moroni. Doc even served as the superintendent there. Still his mental block remained: if something wasn’t scientific then it wasn’t credible to him. Sayre, who was raised Episcopalian, thought she was OK because she led a kind and virtuous life. But Doc couldn’t answer his daughter’s fear of death or his own. As a child, death stole into the homes of neighbor’s houses; two of his friends died in their homes, and another’s friend mother up and died. Their deaths shook him as a child. “In those days death was close to us. Sickness was close to us,” Doc remembers. Doc was ten the year they moved from Interbay to their home in Ballard was the 1918 Flu epidemic. Now as a doctor he knew all that could go wrong as he did surgery on his patients. Margaret picked up on her dad’s fear. She worried about dying. “I wanted to be sure I was going to heaven. I asked Daddy how. He didn’t know. Daddy wrote his parents and asked them. They said to have me learn John 3:16 and Psalm 23. I did memorize them, but I still wasn’t sure,” Margaret says. That assurance of eternal life in heaven wouldn’t happen for Margaret or Doc until the Dodgson’s move to Camano.

Mom thinks Doc moved his family because he didn’t want his children pressured to become Mormons. Aunt Margaret’s view is more prosaic. During WWII, Doc was considered an essential worker. Now that the war was over, he was free to move. He’d always wanted to go back to Seattle where his parents lived. Doc didn’t suspect that their move to the farm on Camano would result in his being “born again.”

Pictures of the Dodgson family in Utah

Doc’s Conversion

The Dodgson’s moved onto their farm in October, 1946. On October 31, the day before she turned ten, Margaret was invited to a Halloween party at Mabana Sunday School, that met in the old schoolhouse a mile south of the farm.  (The schoolhouse is where artist Linda Demetre now has her studio just across the street from the fire station.) The Dodgson’s enjoyed meeting their new neighbors. From then on, Doc and Sayre drove the kids to Sunday School but they didn’t attend.

In those days, Sunday Schools held Daily Vacation Bible Schools (DVBS) in the summer. There Margaret heard of salvation from sin and eternal life in heaven by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. She asked Jesus to come into her heart. Soon she became concerned for her parents. One night Sayre, who always tucked her children in and listened to them say their prayers, came out of Margaret’s bedroom in tears. Margaret had been pleading, “Mom, I want you and Daddy to get saved.” And “I want you to go to heaven.” Sayre had trouble figuring out what she needed to be saved from. She couldn’t pin down any big sin. But Margaret’s pleading touched her heart. In time she saw her self-righteousness and put her trust in Jesus.

Doc remained a sceptic. The American Sunday School director, Mr. Rochaeffer, whose oversight included the Mabana Sunday School, befriended Doc. He was tenacious, often stopping by the farmhouse and speaking with Doc about spiritual matters. Doc enjoyed their conversations and started to read the Bible. One day he came across these words:

“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:3, KJV).

It dawned on Doc that here was the molecular theory in a nutshell. It answered his question about God and science: though the Bible isn’t a science textbook it is scientifically accurate in things even as current as the molecular theory. Shortly thereafter Doc also prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior. After their conversion, Doc and Sayre and their children faithfully attended Mabana Sunday School. Doc even tacked on twenty minutes of preaching for adults and children who stayed after Sunday School, usually filling the pulpit himself.

From Left to right: Aunt Eva Dallman, Bertha Lefler , Loyal Dallman, Sayre Dodgson, Mildred Waite behind Doc’s hat. Then “Doc” Dr. Thomas B. Dodgson, Evelyn Dallman, Lavon Dallman, and Bud Dodgson

Mabana Sunday School and The American Sunday School Union

Mabana Sunday School has served the community since the early part of the twentieth century. A simple history on the walls reads like this:

“One Sunday in March 1912, a small group of settlers met in a clearing in the woods near the Jay Brooks Home. A large stump served as their altar, there Mabana Sunday School was organized by C. A. Dolph. There were no roads and the people used trails and skid roads. In 1913 they were given the use of a one room cabin. In 1920 the Sunday School was organized under the auspices of the American Sunday School Union. In the 1960s, members led by Bernie Dallman, began work on their own building and it was dedicated on Easter Sunday, 1964. May 6, 1985, the name was changed to the Mabana Chapel.”

Mabana Sunday School was part of the American Sunday School Union formed in 1834. Sunday schools started in Britain during the mid-18th century. The first Sunday School in the United States was held in Philadelphia in 1790.  They provided education for the working class at a time when public schools were rare and children worked in factories. By the end of the 19th century there were more than 70,000 across the United States, many in rural communities who couldn’t support a pastor. Through Sunday Schools the gospel got out to forgotten kids.

The American Sunday School union was tied together by the vision to get the gospel out to forgotten kids and by directors who oversaw Sunday Schools in a region, like Mr. Rochshaffer. The next director after Rochshaffer was Jim Larsen. He oversaw a number of little Sunday Schools from Mabana to Rockport and Marble Mount up the North Cascade Highway. Directors would hold retreats for the youth and camp every summer at Nooksak Bible Camp. But the real heartbeat of the Sunday Schools were the local leaders, the Sunday School superintendents, treasurers and especially the teachers. Mabana would grow to be one of the largest Sunday Schools in the region thanks to the Dodgson and Dallman clans.

At Mabana Beach, From left to Right seated: Sayre Dodgson, Ann Dodgson with her arms around her mom, Mrs. Rochshaffer,   Back row: Margaret Dodgson with one of the Rochshaffer daughters.

Bernie and Eva Dallman

Mabana’s Sunday School was led by Eva and her husband Bernie Dallman. Everyone called her “Aunt Eva” and him “Uncle Bernie.” They were salt of the earth of people. For example, in 1970 when Mom and Dad and I moved into the little white house gifted to us by Doc and Sayre as an early inheritance there was nothing in the house. No electricity. No plumbing. Mom went three years with no running water. No cabinets. No doors. And worst of all, no heat. Dad bought a wood furnace from Bryant Hardware to replace a broken-down cast iron furnace in the basement that had been plumbed into the chimney. Uncle Bernie helped Dad put duct work through the entire house. And Aunt Eva served as Sunday School superintendent for decades.

The Sunday School followed a set pattern. Aunt Eva opened every session. She made a few announcements and asked if there were any birthdays among the attenders. If so, the birthday celebrant would march forward and put their birthday number of pennies into a container while everyone counted them out loud one at a time. There would be singing, a Bible reading from which the Sunday School lesson was based, and the Lord’s prayer. After that the kids went to their classes. Mom’s favorite part was the singing. Aunt Eva would ask for favorite hymns. Mom and her brother Robert loved to shout out their favorite hymns. Mom claims that singing those hymns is how she learned to read.

Others chipped in. Sayre and Doc taught classes, as did other neighbors. Director Jim Larsen and his wife Esther and their two daughters Charlotte and Barbara, who became friends with Mom occasionally attended. Lot’s kids from the south end of Camano came: The Dallman kids, the Dodgson kids, the Wall kids, and the Box kids with their red hair came. And, in the summer, there were other children.  

Charlotte and Barbara Larsen and Ann Dodgson at the farmhouse

Mabana Sunday School held a midweek young people’s gathering for every age of kid that was around. Mom who was one of the younger kids welcomed in. “Those were the golden days when we were little,” she says. The group was called Torchbearers; each youth was expected to be a torch bearer for Christ and repeated every week: “And I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me.” The young people even elected leaders from their group. It wasn’t all serious though. They played baseball in the yard and had fun taffy pulls at Aunt Eva’s house. They weren’t divided by age, but if you were older like Margaret and Bud, you got to go on the retreats.

Those were happy days. For Mom, one of the best things that Jim Larsen did was recruit students from Biola, Multnomah or Seattle Pacific College to host a DVBS each summer which lasted for two weeks.  “Pretty girls from Multnomah led it,” Mom remembers. DVBS started at nine and ran till noon. The kids were taught a Bible story, did a craft, were rewarded for bringing a friend and for memorizing Bible verses or whole chapters. Once Mom memorized chapter thirteen of First Corinthians. She was so brown from playing outside in the sun, that one summer her college aged teacher named her “Mini Ha Ha.”

At Mabana Beach from left to right: Audrey, Lavon (or Evelyn) Dallman, Kay Cooney, niece of Doc and Sayre, Evelyn (or Lavon), and Loyal Dallman 

A New Building

Mabana Sunday School met at the one room schoolhouse until Mom was twelve. It had one huge pot-bellied stove, two outhouses, one for the boys and one for the girls, and a small yard where kids played baseball. But the Ladies Aid owned the schoolhouse and needed to have the building back. For a few years Mabana Sunday School rented the South Camano Grange. By then, most of the old gang of kids had grown up and were gone. The Grange didn’t have a piano. Mom accompanied the hymns with the accordion Doc bought her. It was clear that the Sunday School needed to get their own space.

Mom, Ann Dodgson, practicing the accordion at the farmhouse

Lillian Lollar, who helped with the Sunday School even though she didn’t have children, and her husband Roy, who didn’t attend but was supportive, gifted land east of their home and across the road to the Sunday School with the stipulation that it was to be used as an American Sunday School Union. Building the new chapel was a community effort. Most of it was done by volunteer labor. Bernie, who had plowed South East Camano Drive, the road in front of my childhood home, with his diesel bulldozer, logged the land and moved the dirt. Shorty and Loyal Dallman, who had five kids, pitched in. Ted Snowden worked on the project. Roger Waite, whose mother Mildred had been was treasurer for years, was instrumental too. Doc, whose family now lived in Stanwood, contributed financially. With the help of all, the Mabana Sunday School building on the hill was built. Years later it would become a church.

Mabana hosted a wedding reception for Dad and Mom on Sunday, April 24, 1966 two weeks after they had been married on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1966.  It was a precious time of love and laughter as the community blessed this young couple. Little did Dad and Mom know that in a few years Mabana Sunday School would be a place of pain and parting.

Differing Visions

Aunt Eva was still Sunday School Superintendent when we moved to Camano in 1970. Dad and Mom joined in the effort with the other faithful servants at Mabana: Mildred Waite, the mother of Roger Waite, was treasurer; the sweet Kathy Hall, who won my heart by putting icing between graham crackers, ran the nursery. And Bertha Lefler, Frank Lefler’s mother, was the secretary. Frank served as a volunteer fireman and was rather unkempt. In his later years, after Doc had had a couple of heart attacks and a stroke, his worst nightmare was that he would have a medical event when he was visiting some Sunday. He didn’t want Frank Lefler reviving him. Dad helped with the youth. Once again many attended the Sunday School and the preaching service afterwards.  With so many strong leaders, in the 1970’s Mabana was one of the largest Sunday Schools in the region in large part because of pillar families like the Dallmans and Dodgsons.


Grandpa Doc Dodgson and me at Mabana Chapel in the side yard where I volleyball net was set up.

The Dallman clan was large but by then many had left. Besides Bernie and Eva, there was Bernie’s brother Owen, who was nicknamed “Shorty.” He taught Dad to water witch. Owen didn’t attend Mabana, but his wife Loyal, a very nice lady, did. They lived just south of the Sunday School. Owen and Loyal had five children: Lavon, Evelyn and Audrey, who babysat me, Jim and Verna. By the early 1970’s most of the Dallman kids had grown and gone. But Audrey, who had married Dave Broxson, still attended.

The entire Dodgson clan attended Mabana Sunday School. Doc and Sayre drove in from Stanwood. Marge and the kids attended; Bud not so often. Margaret and her husband Ken, who had a background in the Plymouth Brethren movement joined with their growing family; and Dad, Mom and me and soon my sister April who was born in 1972. After Sunday School, the men shared in the preaching duties. Ken, who believed in shared lay leadership, ran it as a Plymouth Brethren Church. Ken, Doc, and Dad preached. Even Bud, who was quite an orator, preached, at least once. Dad still remembers him powerfully repeating, “Lost, Lost, Lost.” Others preached as well. Lee Forstrom, who had been in Mom’s class of 1964 at Stanwood High School, preached, as did Jim Larsen, who was still regional director. But in spite of Mabana resembling a church in many ways, her leaders held fast to it being a Sunday School.  

Then two things happened. At the national level, the Director of the American Sunday School Union became American Missionary Fellowship and their leadership started encouraging Sunday Schools to form as self-sustaining churches. At a local level, Dad, who is strong-willed, opinionated, and ready for a fight, like me, became Mabana’s Sunday School Superintendent.

In the course of time, as Eva and Bernie aged, the Dallman clan waned and the Dodgson clan waxed, it came time to vote for the Sunday School board. Usually voting was a formality with Aunt Eva elected for another year. In the fall of 1974, it was anything but. Dad was nominated and voted in as Sunday School Superintendent. He brought youth, enthusiasm, and a bit of bull-headedness.

As superintendent, Dad got the monthly newsletter from the national organization. From it he learned that American Missionary Fellowship, wanted to move the Sunday Schools from being under the supervision of a regional director one person to become self-sustaining churches. This change was causing political infighting as the directors and Sunday School superintendents who didn’t want to give up their power. Dad’s reading of the NT clinched it; he felt strongly that it should turn into the church. His vision differed from Mabana’s leaders. He began to push. Dad’s lobbying stressed Aunt Eva and Uncle Bernie who were committed to keep Mabana a Sunday School and had pledged so to the Lollars. Bernie got sick. Doc and Dad called at Bernie and Eva’s home and prayed for him.

A board meeting was called for in February of 1975. Dad sat at the head of the table. It was well attended. Dad realized something was up. After Dad opened the meeting, Doc and Dad was accused of causing Bernie’s sickness by pushing for Mabana Chapel to become a church and not kept a Sunday School. Dad knew from the feel of the group that the tide had changed. Instead of people being for Dad, now they were against him. Dad sat there hardly saying anything. Then he started crying. Tinnie McGrath, who was sitting next to him, put his hand on his arm to comfort him. Dad almost resigned that night. But he didn’t.

Leaving Mabana Sunday School

Shortly after, Dad get a certified letter from Jim Larsen. It asked him to never return to the Sunday School. To soften the blow, Mom remembers Jim saying he thought our family would flourish better at another church. Our family stopped going to Mabana. Dad was willing to stay but Mom didn’t want to go to a place where we weren’t wanted. For a while we participated in a Bible study instead of going to church. It met in our home and in the homes of others on the south end of Camano: Ross Robinson and Robin Robinson, Patty and Marvin Paige, Dr. and Audrey Hayes, and Kathy Hall, who had helped in the nursery at Mabana. And for a time, we hosted a house church on Sundays with the Yazels and Dodgson cousins from the farm joining.

Eventually Camano Chapel became our spiritual home.  Dad and Mom had met her new pastor, Bill Wayland, because the Mabana youth sometimes met with the Camano Chapel youth. Bill had even asked Dad how he would like to go into Village Missions as a pastor to a rural church. Mom visited Camano Chapel for a few Sunday and then our family began to attend. In 1976, Jed was born. He refused to let Mom leave him in the nursery, so she stayed with him. She was in the nursery so much that she got hired as the first person to run the nursery at Camano. Mom got to know lots of young parents through the nursery, and eventually she became a deaconess.

As a deaconess, Mom was invited to the board meetings. Mom was burdened that if Mabana Sunday School wasn’t going to be a church (because they had pledged to be a Sunday School), there should be a church on the south end. Bill Wayland sent Camano Chapel members to canvas south of Elger Bay. They asked people if they wanted a church. A lot of people said Yes. Camano Chapel was evaluating whether or not they wanted to become a big church or plant small congregations. Bill talked to Jim Larsen. He said that if they weren’t going to have a church at the south end then Camano Chapel would. Within a month a couple named Doris and Rev. Dick Meyers came to serve as pastor. Mabana Chapel would no longer be just a Sunday School; it would be a church after all.

Light on a Hill

Since its establishment, Mabana Chapel has served its neighbors on the south end of Camano Island, weaving lives together around a shared faith and common love. It is a small church that  perches on the little hill. Just two pastors have shepherded the flock over the last decades: Dick and Doris Meyers and Greg and April Summers. God’s Word has been faithfully preached, Hymns of praise sung, prayers offered up. The little Chapel on a hill continues to be a light on the hill.

Thankfully Dad and Mom hold no bitterness towards Mabana Chapel. In fact, for some years in the 1990s they attended Mabana Chapel once again and Mom worked with the youth. Today they remember with fondness all of the people they served alongside at Mabana and the neighbors they lived alongside on the south end of Camano, like Dorothea McGrath who was the hostess to the gift table at Dad and Mom’s reception and her husband Tinny who put his hand on Dad’s arm at the board meeting.  It was Tinny who loaned Dad his caterpillar so that Dad could shove a bunch of dirt around and landscape behind our house and Tinny who was instrumental in developing the Camaloch community, including the Golf Course course,  where Dad finds so much joy. For my part, I’m glad our family moved to Camano Chapel. She was a wonderful church to grow up in. I’ll share her story later. But first I want to share more of the story of Greg Summers who, when I interviewed him over lunch at Elger Bay Grocery on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, had served Mabana Chapel as her pastor for almost twenty-nine years.

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